Paulius Gritėnas/Prevention of power abuse and regional “putins”

Valdybos nariai su ALF atidarymo svečiais. Linos Fisheye nuotraukos.
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The Open Lithuania Foundation (ALF), which started its activity in Lithuania in the year 1990, funded more than 350 books, supported the implementation of 40 programs, and helped to establish 26 non-governmental organizations. Now, after a nine-year break, the foundation is resuming its activities. Why?

The foundation of the US financier George Soros spent $ 60 million on civil society development in Lithuania. Through the Foundation, thousands of internships and academic trips were supported. Critics, though, repeatedly blamed the Foundation for not only supporting these initiatives, but also for contributing to the emergence of a coherent worldview. The name of the philanthropist Soros got associated with myths and conspiracy theories.

Sociologist Milda Ališauskienė: “We are open to all who want to not only speak, but also listen”
In 2008, the OLF stopped its activities. According to Milda Ališauskienė, the Chairperson of the OLF Board and Head of the Sociology Department at Vytautas Magnus University, such a decision was taken on the assumption that the mission of the fund in Lithuania had been completed and other organizations would take over the work begun.

“It’s important to remember the socioeconomic circumstances that led to the end of activities. There was such an upsurge at that time that it seemed that the foundations for a civil society had been laid, and the academic space had been set up,’ said the sociologist and Chairperson of the OLF Board. According to her, the reestablishment of the foundation was triggered by a deteriorating public climate. The idea of the Foundation itself has also changed; it will no longer be a support fund, as it used to be. More work will be done with existing non-governmental organizations. “We’ve been faced with the increase in social exclusion, inequality, evident lack of social justice, and increasing numbers of emigration,” she noted. “We believe that the Open Lithuania Foundation, given its experience, could revive and make a contribution by taking a leading role in this situation,” said Milda Ališauskienė.

According to the sociologist, our society is not sufficiently resistant to either internal or external threats. “We can see what is happening beyond the borders of Lithuania in the countries close to us. We can see that their societies are not resilient. We would like to focus on preventive measures, talk about the idea of the European Union, and invite everyone to rethink it,” said the Chairperson of the OLF Board.

“When redefining our presence in the European Union, we could come back to the idea that there is no alternative for us. The European Union is the only option,” emphasized Ališauskienė. In May, the Vilnius Institute of Policy Analysis will be introduced to the public, which will analyse the processes of societal development and will try to offer a response to the emerging threats.

The Chairperson of the OLF Board noted that the foundation will seek to cooperate with business people who will see the importance of their activity. “The standpoint of the Foundation itself has changed in that it will no longer be a support fund as it used to be. It’ll focus now on cooperation with existing non-governmental organizations,” said Ališauskienė. She also added that it is not accidental that the name of the Foundation refers to “Open Lithuania”. We are open to all the opinions and participants who want not only to express a viewpoint, but also to listen to the others. We want to initiate discussions in which we speak and hear,” said the sociologist.

Philosopher Nerijus Milerius: “In the past, the fund’s activities were more elitist”
Nerijus Milerius, Professor of the Faculty of Philosophy at Vilnius University and Member of the OLF Board, emphasized that the fund’s activities were suspended without considering all possibilities. In Latvia and Estonia, though, it continued to actively participate in generating ideas. Now more attention will be paid to societal resilience. The Foundation will support and help non-governmental organizations that will oppose the power abuse of specific government groups.

“In the past, the activities of the Foundation were more educational and more elitist. For me, as a person of the academic world, it was, of course, acceptable, but then it was only beneficial to a limited number of people,” said Milerius.

Many books were released, I myself used to organise academic, philosophical discussions. It gave really a lot to the academic world. But there were other programs as well,” noted the philosopher, emphasizing the growth of the network of non-governmental organizations.

Now it is of primary importance to promote societal resilience. The Foundation thus will support and help non-governmental organizations that will oppose the power abuse of specific government groups. It will try to protect the rights of those who, for one reason or another, cannot defend themselves,” stated Milerius. According to him, the OLF does not aim to promote liberal ideology. “There are people who, when they see the name of Soros Foundation, immediately become suspicious or even hostile, but in fact, in the Foundation, the Board, and the Institute we have a very broad political spectrum of people from right to left,” noted the member of the OLF Board.
“I myself have always believed that constructive debates between different ideologies and political ideas are lacking, and people who represent that diversity of ideas can work together,” said N. Milerius.

Lawyer Justinas Žilinskas: “Closed societies lead to confrontation”
According to Justinas Žilinskas, Professor at Mykolas Romeris University and the European Law Institute, the Foundation will help to look for long-term and wide-scale solutions to social and political problems. There are quite some people in Lithuania who think that it wouldn’t be bad to have a “national Putin” (we already have some regional “little putins”, and their number seems to be increasing). It is crucially important to change the attitude of such people.

“The research results of the Vilnius Institute of Policy Analysis will help to formulate the actions and measures that need to be taken to solve a variety of well-known problems in Lithuania: dissatisfaction with the state, constant fears about the future, limited citizen participation in public life, and growing social exclusion,” explained the lawyer.
“We will also try to bring together, unite, and help various non-governmental organizations whose strength directly relates to the ability of the public to control the government, both regional and central. And ultimately, we can never forget that Lithuania is dependent on its neighbouring countries, which are currently undergoing some alarming processes. Therefore, it’s time to rethink the future of Lithuania in the European Union and to rediscover the need for European coexistence,” stressed Justinas Žilinskas, adding that the Foundation aims to advocate both the tradition of Lithuania in Europe and the tradition of democratic Europe.

Asked about the values that unite the members of the board, the MRU lecturer argued that the most prominent bond is the democratic tradition of Europe. “This tradition began in ancient Greece, and it managed to surmount various crises and catastrophes in Europe in the last century. It is based on society that is open to a plurality of opinions, discussions, arguments, but not outcries, that respects human rights, understands the need for distribution of power, and that is based on the rule of law and justice. And I do not even know the political views of all people – most likely their diversity would surprise me,” – said Žilinskas.

According to him, society needs help because “a firm hand” still seems to be an attractive and easy solution. “The lessons of history are very clear: closed societies lead to confrontation, conflicts, and other major problems. Let’s look, for instance, at Russia. Quite some people in Lithuania think that it wouldn’t be bad to have a “national Putin” (we already have some regional “little putins”, and their number seems to be increasing). It is crucially important to change the attitude of such people:  it is very easy to lose freedom, but then no way back would be possible; all we could do is shed bitter tears,”- said the professor of law.